8 Types Of Milkweed That Won’t Spread

Milkweed is well known for being a beneficial native plant that is crucial for Monarch Butterfly survival. And many people have come to want milkweed in their gardens to help the Monarch Butterflies. However, people often become disappointed with the results – but not because their Milkweed wouldn’t grow. On the contrary, it often grows too well and spreads all over their garden and into their lawn!

This is most often because the two most commonly planted Milkweeds, Common Milkweed and Showy Milkweed both spread via underground rhizome root. While these rhizomes make it easy to transplant and spread, it also makes it highly aggressive for residential gardens or yards[9]. In fact, one should not plant either of the aforementioned species in a formal manicured flower bed. Rather, they are better suited in wilder areas, meadows, and micro-prairies.

Now, I must state the obvious here. The species of Milkweed I’m listing do not spread via rhizomes, but they can still self-seed. All Milkweeds will release there seed to float away on little feathers. But, with these species you won’t have to worry about 25 new sprouts popping up all throughout your yard.

What is a rhizome?

A rhizome root is actually not a root, but a horizontal stem that travels underground. As a rhizome producing species matures, it’s root system will send out these underground ‘runners’ in various directions, often traveling far from the mother plant. Every so often, these rhizomes will send up new shoots, and form new plants. It is an incredibly effective way to spread, as evidenced by such rhizome plants like Goldenrod and Black Locust trees.

Now there are over 75 species of Milkweed native to North America. And many of those do not spread via rhizomes – just seed. I’m going to list some great choices that you can grow in a residential garden, anything from a formal flower bed to a manicured border. And the best part is that these are versatile but are not aggressive.

So, let’s get right down to it – here is a list of Milkweeds that are not aggressive and will not spread all over your yard.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Native from Arizona to Maine, this drought tolerant orange Milkweed is definitely one of my favorites. It is probably the single best Milkweed for a residential garden, as it is quite versatile with it’s only real requirement being well-draining soil. It is drought tolerant, does best in full sun, and doesn’t grow taller than 2′, often being around 1′[1].

I have probably 15 of these growing in my yard right now, as they are just so versatile and look so nice all year. It is very easy to grow from seed, and you can even get blooms the first year if you transplant it early enough.

Redring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata)

One of the showier milkweeds, it blooms tight groupings of white flowers in Spring to Summer. Also known as White Milkweed, blooming clusters have been compared to ‘snowballs’ growing in the woods. And the flowers have purple dots in the center, giving it it’s ‘red ring’ common name. It’s native range runs from Texas to Connecticut, generally Southeast of the Appalachian Mountains.

It grows best in full sun to part sun in drier soils ranging from clay to rocky. In the wild it is found growing in the woods as well as along the edge. Typically growing 1-3′ tall, it is a good choice for slopes. It is truly a beauty when planted in groups[2][10].

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Swamp Milkweed can quite possibly claim the title of the showiest of all Milkweeds. Also known as Rose Milkweed, it blooms pink and white flowers in Summer. This is the perfect choice for low spots or areas that are most often moist. Growing best in moist soil and full sun, it can grow up to 4′ tall[3].

Now, even if you don’t have a moist area for it, you can still grow it provided you give it enough supplemental water.

Swamp Milkweed has one of the largest native ranges, it covers Newfoundland to Manitoba, and then all continental states with the exception of the West Coast and Mississippi.

White Swamp Milkweed, (Asclepias perennis)

Similar to the aforementioned Swamp Milkweed, this species also likes moist areas. In fact it is also known as Aquatic Milkweed, and can be found growing along the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys from Indianna and Missourri down to Texas and Florida.

Growing 2-3′ tall in full sun or partial shade, it does best in moist environments near water sources or low spots. This plant is not drought tolerant, but in optimum growing conditions can be expected to bloom 1-2 months long[4].

Longleaf Milkweed (Asclepias longifolia)

Another moisture loving member of the Asclepias genus, Longleaf Milkweed grows up to two and one half feet tall. It grows best in full sun inside moist meadows and near water, as it needs constant access to moisture. Most often blooming it’s white and purple flowers in Spring, it can persist into summer[5].

The native range of Longleaf Milkweed goes from Ontario to Texas, Florida, and up to Delaware. Blooming for a month or more, it will add a nice accent to rain gardens.

Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata)

One of the larger species of Milkweed, Poke Milkweed can grow upwards of 5 or even 6′ tall in optimum conditions. Growing best in part sun and well draining soil, it is a great choice for gardens on the side of homes, borders, or near trees where they can receive some shade[6].

I love the nodding clusters of flowers Poke Milkweed puts out in late Spring to early Summer. And the butterflies love the large amount of foliage they provide as food for their baby caterpillars.

Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis)

One of the more unique species, this is one of those somewhat rare plants that actually put out green flowers! Green Milkweed is a shorter species that can blend with virtually any other plants as it is nothing but green colors.

Native to the Southern United States from Texas and Florida north to Nebraska and Ohio, it can be found along roadside ditches. It generally grows 1-2′ tall, and is very well behaved[7]. I have several plants in my garden that I grew out of curiosity. And, since it isn’t native to my area, I do deadhead the seedpods after blooming.

Arizona Milkweed (Asclepias angustifolia)

Native to southern Arizona, this Milkweed is very drought tolerant. It is found in mountains, canyons, and in riparian forests of Arizona at high elevations above 3000 feet. Blooming showy white flowers with narrow stems and leaves, it can be attractive when planted in clusters.

Growing in full sun or part shade, it reaches 2-3′ tall in dry rocky soils, and has a taproot that helps it tolerate the dry conditions[8].

Fine more Milkweed plants here


[1] – Asclepias tuberosa, USDA NRCS. Accessed 05JUL2024.

[2] – Asclepias variegata, USDA NRCS. Accessed 05JUL2024.

[3] – Asclepias incarnata, USDA NRCS. Accessed 05JUL2024.

[4] – Asclepias perennis Walter, USDA NRCS. Accessed 06JUL2024.

[5] – Asclepias longifolia Michx., USDA NRCS. Accessed 05jUL2024.

[6] – Asclepias exaltata L., USDA NRCS. Accessed 05JUl2024

[7] – Asclepias viridis Walter, USDA NRCS. Accessed 05JUl2024

[8] – Asclepias angustifolia Schweigg., USDA NRCS. Accessed 05JUl2024

[9] – Woodson, Robert E. “The North American species of Asclepias L.” Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 41.1 (1954): 1-211.

[10] – Redring Milkweed, Plant of the Week, US Forest Service. https://www.fs.usda.gov/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/asclepias_variegata.shtml

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: https://youtube.com/@growitbuildit Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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